If I were to say that my mom was thrilled about Patrick and I finally getting together it would be an understatement. She liked him, and she'd tell me so. If she overheard me talking to Erin, about my crush of the moment, she'd say, "I like Pat, and so does Cinder."
Cinder was our one-hundred plus pound Rottweiler. Her markings were fairly faint above her eyes, and her head, while still being plenty broad, was a little more narrow than that of a lot of Rottweilers. People had asked if she was part Lab, but she wasn't. If anything, the darkness of her face made her look a bit more mysterious and, perhaps to some, menacing.
She would perch herself at the top of the outdoor staircase that led to our apartment and watch the goings on below. Sometimes she'd lay, with her head on her paws, completely blocking the path from the stairs to our front door. Other times she'd stand looking, through the brown grate type banister that connected the handrail to the porch, toward the courtyard, at whoever was coming or going from the laundry room. When she was standing like that, and looking down, she was a fairly intimidating sight. She stood at attention with her wide chest splayed and her ears forward. Her hazelnut colored eyes were unrelenting as she watched to be sure that what was happening below was okay, or acceptable to her. There was no gate of any kind keeping her there. Sure, she was behind something, and she was a story above. But, she could easily turn to her left for a straight shot down the stairs to the landing, and then finish the second half of the flight which would shoot her right into the courtyard. To top it off, she would growl. Not all the time, but lots of the time she would. It would start as a rumble from deep in her throat, and would be followed by a woof. The volume and duration of both greatly depended on the violation, or how well, if at all, she knew the person.
Most of the time though, she'd sit. This was the perch I envisioned when I mentioned it before. She would sit at the top of the stairs, which more or less faced west. In the afternoon she'd turn her face to the sun and loosely close her eyes, her muscles twitching a little from under the rust spots above them. The muscles were still active, and tried to make her eyelids blink even though her eyes were closed. The light would reflect off the shiny black coat on her back, but soak into her muzzle. When she sat like that, her ears were laid back and were hot to the touch. Think Meg Ryan in the City of Angels just before she gets hit by that truck. Cinder was in heaven on the porch, and loved soaking up the Colorado sun. Only Cinder, was not Meg Ryan, and her relaxed state could, and would, change on a dime. If a bird chirp was out of the ordinary her eyes would open, her ears would fan, her hackles would bristle and a vibration would begin in her throat in an instant. The Exeter Apartments were hers, and so were my parents and I.
Cinder and I acted like siblings. Since I am an only child, and we'd gotten Cinder when I was in the third grade, it was a natural dynamic. I can remember sitting in the far back of our Jimmy on the way home with baby Cinder for the first time. She would have been four or five months old. We drove through McDonald's in Toltec, AZ (technically Eloy, AZ) and I fed her french fries. It took her forever to chew one of the soggy things up. Anyway, over the years, we grew up playing and bickering like any kids would do. We'd shove each other off the couch. We'd compete for my dad's attention. She'd drag me around by my knotted t-shirt per my mom's fire drill instructions, and I'd use her tummy as a pillow, when she looked so cozy on the floor that I couldn't resist taking a nap myself.
Well, Cinder was going on nine now, or sixty-three in dog years, and I was a junior in high-school. We'd grown up, and we were both opinionated to say the least. She definitely did not like everyone. Cinder wasn't vicious or mean by any means, and we certainly didn't let her act badly toward people. She was for the most part very friendly toward people. Since her tail was clipped and she didn't have much to wag, she'd practically shake her hips off, giving my side an ache just watching, when she saw people. But, she wasn't like a lot of Labs or Goldens that do that for everyone. She had instinct, intuition, and her favorites. Patrick happened to be one of her favorites, and my mom apparently thought that it should carry some weight in my boyfriend decision making.
My mom and Cinder's affection for Patrick hadn't swayed my decision nearly as much as my friend Angela's did. She was a lot like my mom in the sense that she'd say much the same things, "I like Patrick. You should go out with him," when we'd be talking about guys. Angela was a wonderful friend. She had gone to school with Erin, and our friend Sarah, in Manitou, and she also happened to work with Patrick at Manitou's legendary Penny Arcade. I didn't get to see her a ton, but enough for her to help me view Patrick as more than a friend. Her influences had my mind working, and hearing about the whole volley ball escapade during the Mac's Tournament a few weeks earlier had been the final shove I'd needed to consider him.
A five dollar dinner might sound a little strange, above and beyond the odd reason for its offer. But, I'd been earning my own money forever, and officially paying for all of my normal expenses, and extras, since I was fourteen. When I was in ninth grade, my mom took me to the bank and said, "We're opening you a checking account," and wrote me a check for one-hundred dollars. My eyes got huge because it was substantially more money than my weekly allowance. She continued by explaining that this was a new monthly allowance, which also made me responsible for buying my own lunch, contact solution, and for paying my phone bill. The second I was old enough to work, I got a job and deposited my paychecks into my checking account, too. My parents had never just dished out money for a movie, or outings with friends like I'd seen some parents do. I either had money to do stuff with, or not, and it was based on how I'd managed the routine money my mom gave me. Her pulling the bill out of her wallet said much more than the amount itself did. Patrick and I were going to Subway after all, which isn't terribly pricey. I smiled and took the money, knowing that it was time. I'd said "okay" to Patrick five days earlier, and still hadn't kissed him. I was in between, and wasn't sure how to make the transition from friend to girlfriend. It was driving my mom nuts.
Her small bribe was just as well. It made the inevitability of the future a reality, and would put my nervousness about the whole thing to an end. It would also change "Pat" to "Patrick" in my world. I had always called him Pat, and so did everyone at school. The only people who I knew that called him Patrick, were his mom, and Angela. It wouldn't be long before my mom started calling him "Patrick", too.
The kiss was small, but it was the gateway to the next decade of my life. It happened on our front porch where, while they didn't bear witness, my mom and cinder sat mere feet away, inside our apartment.